‘Is the Bird I Am Holding Living or Dead?’

Another kind of letter.

Dear _____,

From where I write to you, grasshoppers are humming in the night grass. I’m sitting on the floor of a new (to me) and old house, where I’ve just arrived. My partner and I horror-laughed just now as we figured out that we’ve moved eleven times between the both of us since March. Only a “mild” side effect of pandemic, unemployment, and a change in direction in both our lives. This is the last time, I hope, for a while.

I strive to write a response to one of your letters every Sunday. Yet, life comes and goes in its intensities and I have to admit: my mind is my body. I can’t process very much after this week. While I know I could bang out a letter if I pushed myself tonight, I wouldn’t be present for the writing. And that’s the point of these letters, isn’t it? Not merely to get something out, but to offer to a stranger undivided attention—in other words, some kind of love [1]. It seems just as important to extend myself my own grace.

This week, The Reading officially reached 1000 subscribers, and you are one of them. Thank you for reading, whether you’re still in bed or coming to this later in the week, and I hope you’ll share this project with those you know who could most use it.

A movement is a “change of place” and a “coalition…of people” but it also is a “change of position or posture” [2]. Thanks to the past six months, I’ve radically altered the posture that I take toward the world. Re-evaluated what I can offer; how often I can offer it; how much I have left to give after trying to survive in the ways I’ve thought I would in the past ten years. It has only been two months, yet this newsletter has felt like a culmination of my life: an opportunity to share in struggle and wisdom how to live, with art, the full worth and pleasure of one’s life.

I’ll be back this Wednesday at noon for The Writing and again next Sunday with a letter. For now, I want to leave you with one of my favorite lectures by Toni Morrison, whose precise command of myth and language here reminds me that no writing is ever too late if it says exactly what it means.

As ever,

[Toni Morrison Nobel Lecture (1993): Transcript]


[1] A friend of mine, giving me advice on teaching, told me that love was undivided attention. We are both Buddhists. I can’t help but think that’s part of why I agreed so readily and why I think about it constantly. Attention—love—is an open posture toward the world.

[2] Straight out the OED. This appeared as an in-class writing exercise for me this week. Sometimes merely reading the dictionary can be incredibly generative.

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